Sabinal, originally known as Hammer's Station, is on U.S. Highway 90 and the Southern Pacific Railroad, twenty miles northeast of Uvalde in east central Uvalde County. The first settler at the site was Thomas B. Hammer, who established a stage stop there on the east bank of the Sabinal River in 1854. Other early settlers were Louis Peter, Peter Rheiner (future father-in-law of Vice President John Nance Garner), John Kenedy, and George Johnson. A post office was opened at the stage stop on October 19, 1854, with Hammer as postmaster. A soldier by the name of Austerman, who arrived at Hammer's Station in the late 1850s en route from Del Rio to Castroville, recalled a community hungry for news from the outside world. He also remembered seeing long trains of freight wagons on the road by Hammer's Station carrying supplies to settlers and soldiers on the far western frontier.
In 1856 the Second United States Cavalry established Camp Sabinal on the riverbank opposite Hammer's Station, to protect people and commerce on the road from San Antonio to El Paso and to protect the settlers from hostile Indians and outlaws. Nevertheless, Thomas Hammer was killed by bandits in 1857. By the time of the Civil War Sabinal was on the mail route and wagon trail from San Antonio to Mexico. In 1874 pioneer merchant Louis M. Peters built a successful general store. Soon after the railroad arrived in Sabinal in 1881, Peters moved the store to a site east of the river that eventually became part of the center of town. With the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1881 the rest of the community was moved to its present site. Angora goats imported from Turkey were brought into the Sabinal area in 1881.
By 1884 Sabinal had an estimated population of 150, a public school, two churches, and a hotel; local ranchers were shipping wool, livestock, and hides, and Peters was serving as postmaster. By 1893 two hotels, the Mitchell House and the Sabinal Hotel, were serving a growing number of visitors to the city. Corn, cotton, oats, and sugarcane were cultivated on farms around the community, many of which utilized the "aer-motor water well windmill" available at John T. Wilson's lumberyard to irrigate their crops. Uvalde County school records in 1900 showed 156 students in three schools in Sabinal. In 1906 Sabinal had a population of 500 and was surrounded by 1,500 acres of cultivated land. The town was incorporated that year, and W. D. Heard served as mayor soon thereafter. In the same year the Sabinal Telephone Company was granted a franchise, the city water and fire departments were organized, and the cotton gins operating in the area reached the substantial number of six. Sabinal Christian College was founded in 1907 by members of the Church of Christ.
By 1911 Sabinal was a commercial and agricultural center; an estimated 35,000 acres was under cultivation in the area, and as many as five general stores supplied an estimated population of 2,500. The cotton industry was burgeoning, and local stock raisers were producing thousands of hogs, cattle, sheep, and goats. In 1914 Sabinal had a population of 2,000, who supported Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, a high school and a grade school, an ice plant, two banks, three cotton gins, and a weekly newspaper called the Sentinel, started by publisher Harold Baldwin in 1890. Poor patronage, inadequate financial backing, and crop failures led to the closing of Sabinal Christian College on May 15, 1917. A new high school was constructed near the center of town in 1925, when Sabinal had an estimated population of 1,458. In 1935 ranchers in the Sabinal area principally raised cattle, sheep, and goats; they produced thousands of pounds of wool and mohair annually. Area farmers raised oats, corn, sorghum grains, and cotton. The town population that year was approximately 1,600. A school for Hispanics had recently been completed. Sometime in the 1940s the Trio Independent School District was annexed to the Sabinal Independent School District. In 1949 other nearby rural schools were consolidated with the Sabinal district. In 1950 citizens approved a $225,000 bond issue to pay for a new high school and elementary school. The old high school was renovated to accommodate all of the community's elementary students, who had previously attended three separate schools. In 1955 Sabinal had an estimated population of 2,300; in 1975 the number of residents was estimated at 1,570. By 1974 thirty-three of the schoolteachers in Sabinal had college degrees; seven had master's degrees. The high school and an elementary school built in 1970 had a combined enrollment of 636; many students arrived at school on five buses that covered the 356 square miles of the school district daily. By 1990 the ranching and farming community had an estimated population of 1,584 and was billed to tourists as the gateway to recreational and retirement opportunities in the Sabinal and Frio canyons. Churches serving the community in 1990 included the First Baptist, Trinity Baptist, St. Patrick's Catholic, Central Christian, Church of Christ, and Sabinal United Methodist.